Wednesday, August 3, 2011

China friend or potential foe?

Baird-china visit Photo Credit: Globe and Mail

While making Beijing his first official bilateral trip as foreign minister, John Baird described China as a “friend” and “ally”. An interesting choice of words, but are they accurate or appropriate? China may be an important trading partner, but I see little argument to support the use of the labels “friend” and “ally”.

“Friend” is a rather innocuous term, and, since China is not a declared enemy, some will consider it a friend. But an “ally”? Really? Where’s the evidence?

The Oxford Dictionary defines “ally” as: “a state formally cooperating with another for a military or other purpose.”

There are several contraindications of China being an ally in any reasonable meaning of the term.

To start with, I have found no evidence China used its influence to secure for Canada a seat at the United Nations as one of the 10 non-permanent members of the 15-member United Nations Security Council. This despite there being little sense for both Germany and Portugal to get seats, resulting in five European countries being represented, four from the European Union, including the near-bankrupt financial basket case, Portugal.

“We are observing the penetration [in the Artic] of a host of states which ... are advancing their interests very intensively, in every possible way, in particular China.”

– Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky
Russia’s top military brass

Obviously, this is not conclusive, and, of itself, should not preclude use of the term ally. So what of China’s designs on the Arctic?

China feels entitled to a share of the Arctic’s natural resources and wants to see as much as possible of the region remain international territory. Reportedly, “One particularly vocal Chinese commentator even suggests that China could, under certain circumstances, make its own territorial claims in the Arctic.”

And, according to the U.K.’s The Telegraph, Russia plans to “increase naval patrols in the Arctic Ocean to defend its interests against nations such as China seeking a share of the area’s mineral wealth.” Should Canada be any less concerned?

Moreover, does the following report sound like the actions of an ally?

Today’s Vancouver Sun reports a massive cyber attack hit the Canadian government and that two Canadian agencies’ computer systems were infiltrated as part of a massive global cyber attack that spanned at least five years and was likely perpetrated by a foreign government.”

And which “foreign government” might that be? Why, China, of course.

The Sun tells us, “Security company McAfee, which uncovered the breaches, said Wednesday it believes there was one “state actor” behind the attacks but declined to name it, though one security expert who has been briefed on the hacking said the evidence points to China.” [Emphasis mine]

If I were Canada’s foreign minister, I’d be choosing my words more carefully when it comes to describing Canada’s relationship with China. And the term “ally” would not be one of my choices.



© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.


  1. Nations have no friends, only interests.

    If Canada is to take a larger part in the world's affairs(especially as the United States is economically less capable of acting on its own) then we should be focused on nations with similar interests.

    The Anglosphere (Canada, Australia, the UK, India and the United States as the largest of the powers) come from a common basis in language, laws and culture, and should be the people's we are looking towards. This is also (combined) the biggest capital pool, largest market space and most thriving and active demographic on Earth. Focus our attentions there and the rest of the world will be coming to us for access to this space.

  2. Thucydides,

    Good point. Tough to single out the U.K., though, when they favour the EU over traditional relationships.